Meet the Maker: Shunji Ohashi Interview
For the latest instalment of our Selector's Market, we've collaborated with former Kapital Kountry designer Shunji Ohashi to present a highly sought-after curation of one-of-a-kind pieces from Japan, as well as other unique finds from his personal collection.
Having spearheaded Kapital's craft-led sub-label for over three years, specialising in the traditional methods of Boro and Sashiko, Shunji has a wealth of experience that translates throughout the collection.
In anticipation of the launch, we sat down with the man behind the clothes. Because who better to tell the story than Shunji himself?
Hi Shunji, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! To start, could you tell us a bit about your background?
Hi, I'm Shunji Ohashi and I'm from Fukushima, Japan. I worked as Head Designer at Kapital Kountry for around 7 years here in Japan.
You studied shoe design at the London College of Fashion, but originally had your heart set on a ready-to-wear course. Could you let us in on what made you change direction?
Haha! Yes, you are right. So, originally, I wanted to be a tap dancer! Many years ago, I met a tap dancer called Suji, on the street in the Shibuya area of Tokyo and he was in a very well-known film called "Zatoichi" by Takeshi Kitano.
From there I started to learn to tap dance from him. He inspired me to start a shoe design course rather than apparel and garments. It was my dream to make my own pair of tap-dancing shoes.
How was your experience in London? What were the main similarities and differences you noticed between cultures?
Oh, so many things! If I had to choose one thing…let's say, food culture. In Europe, Japanese food is very expensive. I like Japanese rice and Miso soup. It's a really simple dish but in Japan, it is very, very cheap.
But I really do like London because there are so many cultures. When I lived in the Camberwell area in South London, there were Jamaican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants which were great. I made many friends there.
What I’m trying to say is that I learned many things from London and especially the people there. I hope I will come back very soon.
You worked at Kapital for seven years, most notably leading the Kapital Kountry line. What were your most rewarding experiences during this time?
Every month at Kapital Kountry, we were designing over 20 new samples whilst also producing them, so having a set weekly work structure was almost impossible. I remembered that one night our Kountry design team worked until 2am, purely because of our passion for the job. Perhaps my planning and time management wasn't good enough also…
But my most rewarding experience across Kapital and Kapital Kountry was just working with our design and factory teams. Our design studio and factory were 15 mins away from each other by car so it's close by. Every day, I brought some new ideas and designs to the Kountry factory and made samples together with the craftsmen. And they always said to us, "Shunji, this design and these samples are so difficult to make, it's almost impossible for us to produce that..."
I felt bad, so I always brought some sweets for the craftsmen and women, and I would say "I'm sorry I always bring so many samples that are really difficult to make…please have a break and let’s together think about how we need to change the designs and adjust the samples for production”. I did this every day, so I think I used a lot of my pocket money to buy sweets for the Kountry factory team haha! My motto is “make harmony and try to make people happy."
I think I was the only 'Japanese Buddhist Lay Monk / Fashion Designer' at the time. Let’s see if any more pop up in the future!
You specialise in the traditional methods of Boro and Sashiko. What is it about these intricate techniques that interest you?
You probably know about Boro and Sashiko stitching cultures in Japan, but it specifically comes from the North-East area of Tohoku in Japan. In Tohoku, there was no cotton, and the people could only find hemp or mulberry fabrics because it is such a cold area in Japan. Literally, to survive, for their clothing, they needed to put the fabrics and materials together and stitch them over and over each other. Just layer after layer after layer.
People think, “oh this is a beautiful art piece etc. Yes, it's beautiful but because it is a real-life struggle, and they were stitched out of necessity. That's why the story and narratives are so strong and beautiful…we feel them and hear the voice from our ancestors.
When I see these artworks on the garments, I always appreciate my life at this moment... I have access to food and water. I have somewhere to stay and sleep. I have family and friends. This is not a normal thing. This is special. There is always a real story behind the artwork and techniques used, which is why I love Kapital Kountry, it truly is a beautiful thing.
What do you look for in a piece of clothing, both when designing and purchasing for yourself?
Firstly, what kind of message do I need to share with this design? And what kind of message I need to bring to others. To be honest, I think I just follow my feelings.
At the same time, I get a feeling from the material's voice or the water's voice. I think about why we made these clothes and who will wear these after me etc. I think I feel these things right away when I’m designing.
Because I'm a super monk. Hahaha, it's a Japanese monk joke.
Could you tell us a bit about one of your favourite pieces from the collection, and why it means so much to you?
I like all my collection and have a strong relationship with all the garments. I have a story with each of them and I want to share it! But if I had to choose one item, it would probably have to be the "Sun Studs Jacket”, simply because I like the sun. We live on the earth with mother nature and animals…with water, plants, food... because everything comes from the sun.
Thank you so much!! Namu Shinnyo.